Friday, October 30, 2009

Butternut Squash Baked Pasta

I have been dying to tell you all about this dish for at least a week and a half, but school was more busy than usual and kept me away from blogging more. But this baked pasta is so good I considered blowing off my homework to tell you about it... or maybe blowing off my homework in order to go make more! I was able to talk myself out of it, but I hope you now understand how good this pasta is! It is creamy and silky, almost reminiscent of mac and cheese, but other than the carb overload it's pretty darn healthy. If you like pasta and butternut squash, you will love this.

I added a couple things in order to make this a complete meal. First, I crumbled up tempeh, and added it in as I was finishing up the onions. It added protein, and also a nice nutty flavor. If I haven't' convinced you yet, maybe this will be the dish that inspires you to try tempeh. I also added some spinach, for extra nutrients. It had good flavor, and I wished I had added even more spinach (I happened to have some in my fridge, so it initially went in as part of a fridge cleaning). Also, I didn't feel like going to the grocery store just for three slices of crusty baguette, so I just sliced up some regular wheat sandwich bread. Just as good, and maybe even healthier! This is a satisfying dinner and perfect cold weather comfort food.

Baked Shells with Winter Squash
From Everyday Food by Martha Stewart Living
Serves 4

Butter, for baking dish
4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 8 oz package of tempeh, crumbled
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 pound small pasta shells
1 package (12 ounces) frozen winter squash pur
ee, thawed**
4 cups of baby spinach leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 slices crusty baguette, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (1 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions; season with salt and pepper. Cover; cook until onions are soft and release liquid, 15 minutes. Uncover; raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until onions are browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the crumbled tempeh with about 10 minutes of cooking time left for the onions. Stir in 1 teaspoon rosemary.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water 2 minutes less than package instructions suggest. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups cooking water. Return pasta to pot.

Stir squash and reserved pasta water into onions; simmer 2 minutes. Toss squash mixture, the spinach, and 1/2 cup Parmesan with pasta. Transfer to prepared dish.

Combine bread cubes with remaining Parm
esan, rosemary, and oil; season with salt and pepper. Top pasta with bread cubes; bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

** Want to make your own squash puree? Take a whole butternut squash, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast in the oven. I sprinkled a little salt and pepper on top, and roasted for about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven. When the squash is very soft, remove from the oven and let cool. Scoop out the squash, and puree in a food processor or blender. It's easy, but make sure you plan the extra time for it to roast!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Breakfast Treat!

I mastered the art of pumpkin pancakes a few weeks ago, and have been dying to tell you about the recipe I officially adore. But I wanted to be strategic, and hopefully inspire you a little! That's why I couldn't do this post any old day... if you heard about pumpkin pancakes on Tuesday, you might forget all about them by the time the weekend rolled around. And this is a recipe you don't want to forget. You want to grab a post it, jot down ingredients you might need, and head to the store on your way home tonight. If your weekend is going to be as rainy and mellow as mine, then it is perfect timing to cook some of these babies for breakfast.

While you're at it, check out the awesome blog I got the recipe from. It's Pinch My Salt, and I don't know how I hadn't run across it before. It's great! I am kind of in awe of Nicole's pictures... maybe some day I'll try to learn more about taking great pictures and editing them to look like hers. For now, I'll just admire other people's pictures and work on my cooking skills. One thing at a time, right? My friend Katie gave me the excellent suggestion to try this recipe when I had leftover pumpkin, and now in the last month I've made pumpkin pancakes on multiple occasions.

Before I share the recipe, let me give you a pancake tip if you're like me and only cooking for one or two people. Pancake batter can make a lot, right? And while you could scale down the recipe, that is a lot of dishes and effort for only 4 or 5 pancakes. I like to put in the effort once, and eat the results on multiple occasions! But pancakes are only good in the fridge for a couple more days before you have to throw them out. So... why not freeze them? The trick is to freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then put them into a ziplock freezer bag once they're already frozen. They go from frozen to delish about about 45 seconds in the microwave, and can be a great way to get yourself moving on a weekday morning that's really dragging. And while I'm on the subject of freezing stuff, it turns out canned pumpkin also freezes well. Put 1 cup portions into baggies to freeze, then grab a bag and thaw in the sink when you're craving these pancakes!

And in case you guys think my fridge is out of control, here's proof that I'm not crazy :

See, look at all that space! I have some frozen meat, ice cream, pasta sauce... all normal stuff, and not too much of it! And Matt, I'm glad to hear you're freezing bananas at your house, too :)

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
From Pinch My Salt

1 C. whole wheat flour

1/2 C. cake flour

1 t. baking soda

2 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. ground ginger

1/2 t. ground nutmeg

1 C. buttermilk

1 C. canned pumpkin puree

2 eggs

2 T. oil

1 t. vanilla

2 T. dark brown sugar

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the first eight ingredients (whole wheat flour through nutmeg). In a separate bowl, whisk together the last six ingredients (buttermilk through brown sugar).

2. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and blend together with a wooden spoon until just combined. Lumps are ok, just make sure all the flour on the bottom of the bowl is mixed in. If batter seems too thick to pour, you can gently stir in a little more buttermilk.

3. Drop pancakes by ladleful onto a medium-hot griddle. Pancakes are ready to turn when the edges start to look a little dry and you can see small bubbles forming on the surface.

If you really want to enjoy these pancakes, splurge on real maple syrup. It is so worth it on these pancakes!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The best quiche I've ever made...

Working at the Chopping Block, I see a lot of great recipes that I'd like to try at home. But there are not enough meals in the day, especially when I'm only cooking dinner a couple nights a week lately! So I try to be really selective about which recipes I see in class and want to make at home. This quiche recipe jumped out to me as soon as I saw it. I didn't even get to taste it, because the people in the class took their leftovers home, but I knew I needed a copy of the recipe. I made it within a day or two, which is a quick turn around for me. Boy was I glad I did make it quickly, because it was amazing!! The flavors blended together perfectly, and I felt like it was a great balance of protein, dairy, and veggies. Ever since we started consciously trying to eat less meat, quiche has been one of my favorite things to cook. It's not the healthiest option out there, with a buttery crust and cheese on top, but I do think quiche is a great way to get a well balanced meal out of one dish. Add a salad on the side, and this makes the perfect lunch. I also loved a little slice for breakfast, with yogurt or fruit on the side.

Sun Dried Tomato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Quiche
from "The Breakfast Club" class at The Chopping Block

2 tbsp butter
2 shallots, sliced thin
4 cups baby spinach
1 cup sun dried tomatoes
2 Tbsp parsley, rough chopped
4 eggs
2/3 cups half and half
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
blind baked tart/pie crust (see note below)
3/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the butter. Gently saute the shallots until lightly caramelized, about 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted. Fold in the oven dried tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.

Whisk together the eggs, half and half, milk, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Stir the spinach mixture into the eggs and pour into the blind baked crust. Dot the top of the quiche with th egoat cheese and bake until puffed and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool for about 15 minutes and then cut into wedges.

** My Note: With my busy schedule I've been looking for shortcuts to help me maximize the time that I'm in the kitchen. One shortcut I've been loving is buying pre-made pie crusts. I've made a couple quiche recipes using these crusts, and I think they are worth the time I save! The pre-made crusts that come in their own pan are smaller than a regular pie dish, though, so you'll need to scale back your liquids accordingly. I did about 2/3 cup total of heavy cream and skim milk (the dairy I had on hand already- worked perfectly), and I used only 3 eggs. I kept the spinach the same, and did about 3/4 cup of tomatoes. I also did a little less cheese on top, to keep it from being too rich. Don't be afraid to experiment!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Masa Bread is the new Cornbread!

Quick, when I say "chili", what is the first accompaniment that comes to mind? It's cornbread, right? That's been my answer every since I started making chili a few years ago. I love inventing new types of chili based on my mood, but the side dish never varies. And even though I usually like trying new things, this corn bread requirement never really bothered me.

Last week I planned to make a big pot of chili, and for whatever reason I stopped myself before I gathered the ingredients for cornbread. I had finally reached my limit, and determined that I needed something else to fill the "yummy carb" food category of this meal. That lead me to pull out a few cookbooks, and when I stumbled across a bread recipe from my mom I knew I had found my answer. Masa bread is something she used to make all the time when I was younger, and I loved it. I can't tell you what it is about this bread, but it's amazing! Maybe it's the texture... it's pretty dense but not tough or doughy. Maybe it's the flavor... it tastes like corn, but only subtly. Whatever it is, this bread is a wonderful alternative to cornbread, especially with chili or any type of mexican stew (like my Mexican Chili or Chile Verde).

Masa Bread
from Breads of the Southwest, by Beth Hensperger

-3 3/4 to 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
-1 1/4 cups masa harina para tortillas (the masa I found said "instant for tamales" and it worked great!)
-1 Tbsp/package active dry yeast
-3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
-2 tsp salt
-2 cups warm water (about 115 degrees)
- cornmeal, for sprinkling
- 2 Tbsp corn oil, for brushing

In a mixer with a paddle, mix 1 cup all purpose flour with the masa, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add hot water and beat until smooth- about 1 minute. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix on low until dough just clears the sides of the bowl.

Switch to a dough hook, and knead until soft and springy- about 1-2 minutes for the machine. Dust with flour 1 Tbsp at a time to prevent sticking. The dough should be smooth and springy, not dry. Put the kneaded dough into a greased bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1-1/12 hours at room temperature.

Turn the dough out onto the counter to deflate, and form into two loaves. Place the loaves onto a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, at least four inches apart. Brush the loaves with corn oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until double, about 45 minutes.

About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the over to 375 degrees.

Brush the tops of the loaves again with corn oil. Bake on the center oven rack for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and hallow sounding. Place the loaves onto a cooking rack immediately. Bread is best warm or at room temperature on the day its baked.

My Notes-- since it makes two loaves, I slice one and put it in the freezer. Then I can easily grab a slice or two without defrosting the whole loaf. This bread is fantastic for breakfast, toasted with butter and honey on top.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Julia's Ratatouille

If you're like me, you probably had not idea what exactly ratatouille was when that cute animated film by the same name came out a couple years back. I saw the movie, actually, I insisted on purchasing the movie, yet I still had no clue what the actual French dish was. I'd heard reference to it being some kind of vegetable casserole, but couldn't have picked it out if someone set a dish right in front of me.

Thankfully, that all changed when Julie and Julia came out this summer, and recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking started popping up all over the place! I found the recipe for Julia Child's Ratatouille in Bon Appetit, and knew I had to try it. Basically, I would describe it as a mix of stewed vegetables, including peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. While the ingredients are mostly summer vegetables, the method of cooking makes it so that you could use sub-par out of season veggies and still pull off a good dish. I think it would be great this time of year, when you still have some veggies around, but also want a warm and satisfying dish. You'll be amazed at the great flavor you get from such simple ingredients!

by Julia Child, reprinted in Bon Appetit

1/2 pound eggplant
1/2 pound zucchini, trimmed
1 tsp salt
7 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 8-oz onion, thinly sliced
2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced into strips
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound firm but ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4 inch thick strips
3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

Peel eggplant; cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices, then cut into 3-inch-long, 1-inch-side strips. Cut zucchini into same size strips. Place vegetables in large bowl, sprinkle with 1 tsp salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain; dry with paper towels.

Heat 4 Tbsp oil in large skilled over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant and zucchini to skillet; saute until light golden, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to plate; reserve. Add 3 Tbsp oil to skillet; heat over medium heat. Add onion and peppers; saute until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Place tomato strips atop onion-pepper mixture in skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover skillet; cook over low heat until tomatoes begin to juice, about 5 minutes. Uncover; baste vegetables in skillet with juices. Boil until juices are almost evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfew 1/3 of onion-pepper-tomato mixture to 2 1/2 quart pot; sprinkle with 1 tbsp parsley. Top with half of eggplant and half of zucchini, then remaining onion mixture; sprinkle with 1 Tbsp parsley. Cover; simmer over low heat 10 minutes. Uncover; tilt pot and baste with accumulated juices. Increase heat to medium; simmer uncovered, basting several times with pan juices until only 2 to 3 Tbsp juices remain in pot, watching closely to avoid scorching, 10 to 15 minutes loger. Season with salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature.

I served the Ratatouille with chicken flavored by a simple
lemon and herb marinade and oven roasted potatoes.